March 5, 2004

Joe B. Putnam to chair new thoracic surgery department

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Dr. Joe B. Putnam checks on patient Jobyna Pietrogallo in the recovery room. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Joe B. Putnam to chair new thoracic surgery department

Dr. Joe B. Putnam Jr. has been named the chair of the newly created Department of Thoracic Surgery. Putnam, who hails from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, joined the Vanderbilt faculty in January as Ingram Professor of Surgery.

Putnam’s vision for the department encompasses his vast experience with a wide variety of thoracic diseases and his commitment to and focus on improving outcomes in thoracic surgery.

Before joining Vanderbilt, Putnam served as professor of Surgery and deputy chair of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at M.D. Anderson where he spent his entire career — but knew this was a chance he could not deny himself.

“People who know me and who know Vanderbilt understand that this opportunity at Vanderbilt is special and unique,” said Putnam. “I will be able to contribute more broadly to thoracic surgery in a different way than before. My contributions here will reflect so many individuals who have influenced me during my career.”

He also serves as the program director for the residency education program in Thoracic Surgery and has a secondary appointment as professor within the Department of Biomedical Informatics.

Although he has very definite ideas about what he wants to accomplish in his newly created role and within his department, one thing rings clear — his priorities lie with the patient and the need for a team approach to care.

“This is not just a new department,” he said. “This whole premise is new. This is developing a new system of care for patients with thoracic diseases. The School of Medicine had a tremendous vision for further identifying this critical need, especially in the Southeastern United States.”

The traditional model of care places thoracic and cardiac surgery in the same department. But Putnam says Vanderbilt is on the progressive end of the spectrum with separate clinical programs.

“This provides a wonderfully unique opportunity for rapid improvements in patient care, resident education, medical school education, academic achievement in research and clinical investigations, and health services research in thoracic surgery,” Putnam said.

The Department of Thoracic Surgery includes major clinical and academic programs of thoracic surgical oncology including lung cancer and esophageal cancer, lung failure surgery for emphysema and other debilitating lung diseases, lung transplantation and other treatments for simple and complex thoracic diseases. Although disciplines that care for these patients are very well established, Putnam sees an opportunity to collaborate and enhance existing programs through a multimodality and multidisciplinary team approach.

My goal is to ensure that faculty and staff have an environment and a culture of teamwork in which to provide this care and meet these needs.”

Many opportunities exist for Vanderbilt and affiliated hospitals to network to provide optimal care to patients.

“I want to be a good steward,” Putnam said. “That means giving back to the community, to Vanderbilt, and to other institutions aligned with us, and working to accomplish mutual goals.

“Vanderbilt is uniquely positioned and can serve as a magnet institution for the entire Southeastern United States.”

Although Putnam’s goals, for the department, are simple, they hinge on two questions — where do we want to be and how do we want to get there?

“We will enhance our clinical services, ensure students and residents have educational opportunities of the highest caliber, securely establish our research programs and identify new faculty, who are share this vision, to recruit and retain. In part, that’s how you can measure success. Success can be measured by the success of the faculty in Thoracic Surgery. Our department’s success will be measured by the success and contributions of our residents and students to their future patients.”

Other interests include supporting the Veterans Administration Hospital. As a reserve officer in the United States Navy, Medical Corps, his admiration for those in the armed services is high.

“I respect those men and women who have served our country,” he said. “These men and women have provided, not just a service, but a living testimony by their actions to support the country’s Constitution. I want to support them and their families through service within the VA Hospital in Nashville.”

Access to specialty surgical care for all Americans is another priority for Putnam. He wants to ensure that quality care is delivered and that the process is efficient and effective.

“I’ll do that through my work here at Vanderbilt,” he said. “Our contributions to the community help us prepare for the next generation. We each have a role. We are all in this effort together and must support each other as we care for our patients. This will allow us to care for our patients and their families even better.”

Putnam obtained his undergraduate and medical degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After a fellowship in Surgical Oncology at the National Cancer Institute/National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, he completed his general surgery education at The University of Rochester in New York. His residency in thoracic surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor provided a foundation for Putnam to join the faculty at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Putnam serves on the Executive Committee of the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group, chair of the Thoracic Organ Site Committee, chair of the Workforce on Clinical Trials of the Society of Thoracic Surgery, and participates in other NCI Cooperative Trials.